Memphis Zoo parking plan calls for over 2 acres of park to be paved

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - The final parking plan for the Memphis Zoo calls for more than two acres of Overton Park to get paved.

That will provide the zoo with more than 400 additional parking spaces, and once the new lot is completed, there should be no more parking on the Greensward.

Seeing zoo overflow parking on the Greensward had park lovers seeing red for three decades.

"Passions were high on all sides of the issue," said City of Memphis Chief Operating Officer Doug McGowen.  "But what we got was outstanding input from the public that helped inform the final plan."

McGowen says all stakeholders: the zoo, the Overton Park Conservancy, Overton Park Alliance, and the citizens of Memphis helped the city craft the final version of the parking plan.

"It's a compromise to be sure," said McGowen, "but it's a solution that works for all of the patrons of the park and for all of the tenants of the park."

Zoo parking spaces will increase from 865 to 1280 after 2.4 acres of Overton Park are paved.  An elevated ridge with trees, called a berm, will block park goers view of the new parking space.

In a tweet, the Overton Park Conservancy said it supports the plan presented by Mayor Jim Strickland's administration and thanked "everyone who worked for years to resolve the issue."

Midtowner Clay Patterson, who uses the park several times a week, told WMC Action News 5 he's pleased the final draft protects a majority of the park's trees.

"I'd like to have trees maintained where possible," he said, "but if you have to put something down to make me happy in one area, I understand we might lose some trees, as long as it's not all of them."

Not everyone is happy with the compromise though.  On the WMC Action News 5 Facebook page, Shelby Hamilton wrote:  "How do they get to take public space for their private parking lot?"  And Shonah Sprouse wrote: "Yep, grass is no longer green on the other side.  It's concrete."

Overton Park will eventually gain more green space. City of Memphis intends to relocate its General Services Division.  Drivers may have seen the entrance off East Parkway.  Moving it out of that spot frees up 13 more acres for Overton Park.

"This is going to be 13 additional acres of park land available for everybody to use," said COO McGowen, "and that is our intent."

McGowen said construction on the new parking lot should begin in November and be completed by May 2020.  It's being paid for with private, not public tax dollars.  The zoo and the Overton Park Conservancy are footing the estimated $3 million bill.

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